MORGANTOWN—Mask mandates have been lifted in West Virginia for vaccinated individuals, but signs requiring customers to wear masks still hang in the windows of many local businesses.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s quite safe enough,” said Tre Tarantini, manager at The Grind coffee shop. “The vaccine isn’t quite widely distributed enough for it to be safe to return things kind of totally back to normal.”
Gov. Jim Justice announced May 14 vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks. This was in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating individuals who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask under its public health recommendations.
Prior to the CDC’s announcement, Justice said the mask mandate would be lifted on West Virginia Day on June 20. Now, June 20 marks the day the mandate will be lifted for unvaccinated individuals as well.
This abrupt change left businesses to decide whether to enforce rules of their own.
Anne Lofaso, West Virginia University professor of law, said because businesses are private entities, they are capable of enforcing any guidelines or restrictions they see fit. This extends to enforcing rules requiring masks.
Lofaso said while some customers may claim these types of rules violate constitutional rights, that is a common misconception. Because local businesses are private entities and not government actors, constitutional rights do not apply in this situation.
“As property owners, they can do what they want,” Lofaso said. “Think of it like you own your house and so you can make rules for coming into the home.”
Samuel Bonasso, owner of Quantum Bean Coffee, said not much has changed for the shop since March. It continues to limit its capacity as well as require masks. Indoor dining is also not currently permitted.
He said continuing to enforce mask guidelines not only ensures all customers feel safe, but also believes it prevents confusion given the changes in mandates.
“Some businesses are requiring it and some aren’t,” Bonasso said. “We just felt like instead of jumping back and forth, let’s approach this with a little bit of patience.”
Mandi Powell, owner of Free Spirit Fibers, said a sign requesting customers to wear masks still resides in her storefront.
“It just feels weird to allow people to not wear their mask in the store where some people may be immunocompromised,” she said. “Or, it might isolate people who aren’t wearing a mask if other people are wearing a mask.”
At The Grind, plexiglass continues to separate customers and employees while ordering, and tables are still spread 6 feet apart from one another. Tarantini said The Grind is waiting to change guidelines until active cases decline.
While some businesses continue to implement strict guidelines, others have loosened restrictions.
Connie Merandi, co-owner of Coni & Franc bridal shop in Morgantown, said although masks are no longer required in the store, masks can be worn at the request of customers.
With the ability to loosen restrictions in the shop, Merandi said she feels customers are able to enjoy their experience more while shopping and preparing for their wedding day.
“Instead of one bride coming in with one person or two with them, they can have their grandmother, their mom, their dad [or] bridesmaids be a part of the experience,” she said. “That’s very important.”